Landfill starts program to help County communities dispose of blighted properties

4 months ago

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine – An Aroostook County landfill is trying a new approach to help municipalities combat blight.

Blighted properties have become larger and more public concerns for residents and municipal leaders. Towns and cities often condemn buildings due to dangerous conditions or acquire properties through unpaid taxes. But when rehabbing those buildings isn’t possible, demolishing and disposing of the properties comes at a high cost to municipalities.

On March 1, Aroostook Waste Solutions, co-owned by Caribou, Limestone, Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle, began a pilot program aimed at decreasing the financial burden of blight. Municipalities do not have to pay tipping fees for demolition debris brought to Tri-Community Landfill in Fort Fairfield, so long as they do not exceed 500 total tons of debris, divided among the four communities.

The AWS board of directors includes municipal leaders from all four communities, which led to conversations about blighted property issues, said Mark Draper, AWS solid waste director.

“To put it in perspective, [the landfill] typically gets 9,500 tons of demolition debris every year,” Draper said. “So 500 tons is a small number and a small way we can help towns clean these properties.”

The tipping fee waivers only apply to municipal-owned property, not to properties that residents own, Draper said. Any resident bringing construction or demolition debris to the landfill must still pay fees.

Each municipality is allocated a portion of the 500 total tons as their own limit based on how much they pay yearly to AWS as owner communities, Draper said. 

Presque Isle, the largest AWS community, is paying $327,960 total in 2024. Caribou, Fort Fairfield and Limestone are paying $266,700, $105,720 and $44,700, respectively.

That means Presque Isle has been allocated 220 tons, Caribou 179 tons, Fort Fairfield 71 tons and Limestone 30 tons.

So far, none of the AWS communities have torn down buildings eligible for the tipping fee waivers, Draper said. 

Caribou recently oversaw the demolition of a burned home on Sweden Street, but that property was not city-owned, said City Manager Penny Thompson. Instead, the homeowners signed an agreement with Soderberg Construction, allowing Soderberg to demolish and work with the city to pay tipping fees.

For the past several years, Caribou city leaders have made blight a priority issue to address and have condemned many buildings deemed dangerous or nuisance properties. The tipping fee waivers could help as the city discusses how to handle tax-acquired properties, Thompson said.

“AWS is listening to the challenges faced by its owner communities and working to be part of the solution,” Thompson said. 

Draper said that the AWS board of directors will evaluate the pilot program later in 2024 and decide whether to continue it.